Behaviour 2019
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Social insects as windows into behavioral plasticity, from the individual to the collective
Beryl M Jones1,2, Alexander Walton3. 1Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ, United States; 2Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ, United States; 3Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Organismal Biology, Iowa State University, Ames, IA, United States

Conditional responses to the environment can increase fitness in the face of changing internal and external stimuli, but this phenotypic plasticity can also incur costs. The evolutionary consequences of this trade-off are shaped both by the external environment as well as intrinsic factors. Behavioral plasticity is of particular interest because the mechanisms shaping behavior involve many levels, including gene regulatory, physiological, and neuronal networks, as well as additional complexity due to interactions with other individuals. Here, I outline how social insects can provide powerful insights into the interplay of these factors in shaping behavioral plasticity. Social insects demonstrate substantial behavioral plasticity not only within and among individuals, but also across colonies of socially-connected individuals. I present a framework for integrating across these multiple levels of complexity, from the individual to the collective, to better understand the causes and consequences of behavioral plasticity.